The Royal Air Force will lose its entire fleet of C-130 Hercules aircraft by 2023.

The Defence Command Paper released today, titled ‘Defence in a Competitive Age‘, states:

“The Royal Air Force will retire the BAe146 as planned by 2022 and take the C130 Hercules out of service by 2023. The A400M Atlas force will increase its capacity and capability, operating alongside C 17 Globemaster and Voyager transport aircraft and tankers.”

The C-130J Hercules transport aircraft are often used by special forces.

The C-130J varients first entered service with the Royal Air Force in the late 1990s and some of the C-130s have been retired in recent years but the remaining 14 had originally been due to keep flying until the mid-2030s.

It is understood that, where possible, their missions will be picked up by the fleet of larger A400M Atlas transport aircraft.

This defence review was previously described by Boris Johnson as the largest review of its kind since the Cold War.

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Daniele Mandelli


The one I prayed would not happen.

Alan Reid

Navy has done well, Daniele – but RAF and Army have been slaughtered.


Navy has an interim LSS, zero plan for 20 plus year old LPDs, has lost 2 of 19 frigates for a politicians promise of “more in the future” and will lose all its MCMVs for a handful of light frigates.
One (vice 2) surveillance ships, nothing about afloat repair and nothing about Argus.

So not sure they have done well!

Alan Reid

Hi Rogbob, I still think the Navy has done * relatively * well (I’ll qualify it! lol )- and escaped some of the more swingeing cuts. For instance, by 2025, with the early withdrawal of Typhoon Tranche1 (aircraft barely 20 years old), the RAF will be down to seven combat-jet squadrons (5 x Typhoon/2 x F-35B) – and a mere 150 airframes. That means the air-force has lost over 75% of its mass in fast-jets since the end of the Cold War. Plus will also now lose a significant element of its transport force. In Whitehall there seems to be… Read more »

Daniele Mandelli

Agree. Still recall the 22 Fast Jet Squadrons of 1997. Would never have believed it possible and even 12 now seems massive.

UCAV/LANCA to make up the numbers?

Alan Reid

UCAV/LANCA – might make up the numbers, depending on the development timescales. But it always seems to be jam tomorrow ……………………..


Again mate I wonder what was offered to DSF to let this one go through?


An entire Brigade of dedicated light infantry and retention of medium helicopters although I think Chinny force will reduce.

I’m sure they’ll covble something together with A400, it cant be that much of an elephant…


Not sure about any of those, the medium helis, Puma,will go quite soon with the promise of “jam tomorrow” new medium assets, and a 4 Bn Brigade supposidly to operate similar to the SFSG?….Let me assure you Rog mate that if thats the case, and if the standards are to remain then those 4 Bns, will reduce considerably as the training and selection/tests are introduced. While it may seem a good idea to head sheds, the lads in the Sqns dont want billy crap hat providing the Tier 2 stuff, covering their arses and arcs if they arent up to… Read more »

Daniele Mandelli

I differ from Rog in my take on some of that. From my reading of it the Sp Ops Brigade is not supporting DSF but is a renamed SIG. They can call them Rangers, whatever, they are not supporting UKSF. Send them to Africa with local forces. DSF remains as is. Big difference between Special ops and Special Forces. Special Ops seems to me like a new fancy buzz word to get headlines, much like STRIKE did. ( where is the mouthwash?! ) SFSG remains apart from this and they have the standards from 1 Para and the RM. (… Read more »


They do contribute, I know, providing the tea and cakes….and some of the ground to air comms lol. Having perused once more the rather eye watering buzz worded document I tend to agree mate, that those boys wont be operating in direct support of Tier 1 lads. As for the Chinooks, probably about a third in use mate I reckon. Puma replacement is an absolute must. Cheers.


Both Green and Black fleets are doing operations currently. The original Mk1s, bought in the early 80s are all earmarked to go. A lot of them don’t fly straight anymore anyway. These will be replaced by new Model Gs bought from the US. The expected numbers are to remain at 60. Don’t forget at least a 1/4 of the fleet is unavailable due to scheduled servicing.


We bought 14 in the 90s (incl half HC3 not used until refently) and 14 recently – so about half the fleet is ancient? Not sure I see an order for 30 Chinnies arriving (and no mention of any new)…


Oops, insider information. They’re coming!

Daniele Mandelli

So Chinook not a cut, at least. Good when the new ones come in.


Ok, I was just speculating – I read Spec Ops as aligning with US Spec Ops so more the fighty end of things, given the wider alignments going on (BCTs for instance!) SIG I read as forming basis of the SF Assistance Bde? And SO / Rangers Bde coming from full LI Bns. Interesting that the Rangers title was promoted a bit for what became SFSG but there were no takers. It’ll be interesting to see a summary of “special duties” (one title we havent yet utilised!) toops and tasks when the dust settles. Mate reckons AW149 / H175 battle… Read more »

Daniele Mandelli

Hi Rog I too assumed at first that the SF Ass Bde would be found from the existing SIG. They seem one and the same after all. Doc says SFAB from “wider army” No idea exactly what that means yet. Yes, I recall they were banding about the term “Ranger” for the SFSG. The media were also comparing its badge to the Waffen SS…. Special Duties. That term is a hot potato that involves more than working within and with DSF but others like DHU and other elements supporting the intelligence community. Best to leave that there! No idea on… Read more »


The one thing that was pretty much guaranteed to happen (ok, Tr1 Typhoons up there as a gimme also). Needed large upgrade for which no money set aside, so keeping it meant commitming extra funds from “somewhere”. Hence double bonus from letting go.

Meanwhile we had A400, a large fleet criminally underutilised at huge cost.

At some point A400 has to do what it should be doing. Noting the same “J’s cant do what K’s do SF wise” was went through before, and lo and behold, J’s got to the point they could do what was needed.


But A400 is still a huge aircraft.

Geoffrey Roach

Only came in on this story to say what a shame the old bird’s days are over.

John Hartley

I would have cut RAF C-130J from 14 to 8. Given the 8 a new wing box, used the retired 6 as a source of spares. Bought 2 new KC-130J.

Daniele Mandelli

Yes. SF need something FFS.

Glass Half Full

Seems like we need to understand what SF actually need/want for the future as opposed to what they’ve used previously? It may not be the same. If deploying with light vehicles then A400M has more room for a larger force and/or larger vehicles. So vehicles such as Polaris (wheeled or ski based), JLTV, Jackal, Bushmaster or Viking classes, carried in greater numbers, at double the range for a similar or larger payload. If not deploying with vehicles then maybe something like Bell V-280 Valor or SB-1 Defiant will be more optimised for that role down the road as a new… Read more »

Daniele Mandelli

Take that, thanks GHF.

My concern is numbers and the existing tasks the 22 Atlas will have with others now placed on them.

I read an interesting piece on RAF Atlas ops expanding recently, and a 47 RAFSFF pilot was impressed by them. So yes they can be used. I just would like dedicated assets for DSF given their prominence.


Mate the savings come for the complete removal of a fleet, especially as it’s costing millions in wing root replacements. However I certainly don’t agree with this cut. Some I can understand, or at least go with, but this one is wrong, shit bust. Cheers.


Personal opinion should of kept 3 that had the wing root mods as SF use only and lost the rest. I like the A400M but it has limitations in its rough and short field ability compared to the 130-Js and in my opinion some of those could effect SF operations


Keeping 3 costs relatively little difference to keeping 8 or 12. The cost is in having the people and parts chains in place and the overhead for developing a mid-life upgrade that all airframes needed.
Binning the lot saves a lot of money.


Correct mate and with so few numbers the Atlas will become gold plated and therefore more risk averse, which then reduces operational options, and makes a bad option seem feasible. The herc is the right size, top of the range crews and when push comes to shove, more expendable asset. Cheers mate, I will continue reading the review, as only skim reading at the moment.


I fully agree, unbelievable……


Nope. 14 (would drop to 12 then 9 anyway) were needed to sustain 6 active for another decade and a half. Your cut would save absolute peanuts.

An expensive mid-life update was needed, cost aporoaching buying new (considered) hence this was a no brainer.

John Clark

I assume the A400’s tactical capability is finally ready for service, or close at least?

As you have explained, the C130J force pretty much had to go anyway and would have slowly been phased out before 2030 anyway.

So, do we need additional A400’s for our new Ranger force, or would a buy of C27J’s for SF and light transport be a good idea?

A400 seems a tad overkill for transport of small loads!


A400 not sure, but it’ll have to be 🙂

Herc OSD was 2035 hence the size of the fleet and the need for a program to get it there.

SF like C17 just as much as C130 so dont get too worried about size.

I think we need to be sensible and focus on fewer platform types as that is where the cost is in the (massive) overhead.

If A400 can deliver, all should be ok…

John Hartley

Why then have France & Germany agreed on a joint C-130 sqn to do the jobs A400 cannot? France has 2 KC-130J + 2 C-130J-30. They think it is worth having just 4. The Germans have been slow to order their 6 C-130, but they have just spent 255 m euros on an A400M tactical upgrade. Five will get a self protection system, infrared vision capability & a hold floor compatible with tracked vehicles. If the UK must get rid of C-130J (which I doubt), we should at least have gone from 22 A400M back to the 25 original number… Read more »


Ideally we’d have got some new C130s, but that costs. Keeping the existing required a lot of investment.

Andy L

I totally agree John and given the air mobility fleet have been heavily deployed over the past years on providing overseas aid, I’d send the bill for the 8 new wing boxes to the Department for International Development


Boris Johnson – ‘no more cuts’………

Daniele Mandelli

“to the defence budget”


It would be lovely if the increase in ‘capacity and capability’ of the Atlas fleet meant the purchase of a handful more to partially mitigate the loss of Hercules – but of course it just means sweating remaining assets a bit harder!

It wasn’t a huge surprise though given that removing whole fleets is what really saves money, the C130J’s reportedly needed a fair chunk of unbudgeted money spent keeping them going into the 2030’s and it was only the SF support role that had kept them around post 2015.


Take a look at the SAAF C130 Bs. Nearly 60 years old and still in operation (only just though).I know from personal experience these aircraft were worked hard, particularly in the 70 &80’s border conflict. Yes of course, there was re sparring and avionics upgraded (and I think new engines)

The real point here is expecting 22 A400 to do the work of what was originally 48 C130’s – just nuts

Andy L

I know the let’s raid the overseas aid budget keeps getting mentioned, put when you look at the usage of the transport and rotary wing fleets a large proportion of their hours are spent on delivering aid. So why not use the aid budget to fund the operating costs of say 99 Sqn ? The Puma fleet in the same way could be broken down into 4 ac flights to replace the Bells in Cyprus, Brunei and a flt in the Caribbean, say Belize again. Again running costs paid for by the overseas aid budget. This way 2 complete fleets… Read more »

Nigel Collins

Clearly, well thought through?

“Besides the loss in aircraft numbers, the retirement of the Hercules means that the A400M will be the smallest fixed-wing transport aircraft in UK service, which means many smaller intra-theatre loads of cargo and/or troops will be moved in a not very economical manner.”


From a friend who is a SNCO in 3 Para.

A 400M can’t drop the blokes in sim sticks and it has a problem with heavy drop.

So as he says, how do the blokes get there and how are they resupplied.